Hall v. Desert Aire, Inc., No. 4324.

CourtCourt of Appeals of South Carolina
Writing for the CourtAnderson
Citation656 S.E.2d 753,376 S.C. 338
PartiesJerry Danny HALL, Employee, Respondent, v. DESERT AIRE, INC., Employer and Travelers Casualty & Surety Co., Carrier, Appellants.
Decision Date20 December 2007
Docket NumberNo. 4324.
656 S.E.2d 753
376 S.C. 338
Jerry Danny HALL, Employee, Respondent,
v.
DESERT AIRE, INC., Employer and Travelers Casualty & Surety Co., Carrier, Appellants.
No. 4324.
Court of Appeals of South Carolina.
Heard December 13, 2007.
Decided December 20, 2007.
Rehearing Denied February 14, 2008.

[656 S.E.2d 756]

F. Reid. Warder, Jr., of Charleston, for Employer/Carrier/Appellants.

Malcolm M. Crosland, Jr., of Charleston, for Respondent.

ANDERSON, J.


Claimant Jerry Danny Hall (Hall) sustained injuries as a result of a motor vehicle accident that occurred while he was traveling on a business trip. The Appellate Panel awarded workers' compensation benefits, and the circuit court affirmed. Employeer and insurance carrier (collectively "Desert Aire") appeal on the ground Hall's injury did not arise out of and in the course of his employment. We affirm.

FACTUAL/PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Hall began working for Desert Aire in 1997 as regional sales manager and was national sales manager at the time of his injury. Desert Aire manufactures and sells industrial and commercial dehumidification equipment. The corporation markets its product through independent sales companies that represent Desert Aire's equipment to prospective buyers. In addition, Desert Aire promotes sales by encouraging the engineers who design large facilities to include Desert Aire equipment in their specifications.

As the national sales manager for Desert Aire, Hall was responsible for training Desert Aire's regional sales staff and independent sales representatives. He routinely interacted with sales agents and engineers to facilitate the sale and specification of Desert Aire units. Because the sales and engineering firms are located throughout the country, Hall's employment necessitated an average of four days of business travel every week.

Hall's duties included entertaining potential customers and engineers who might recommend the company's product. In addition, he regularly conducted training for sales agents during business luncheons and dinners. Alcohol was frequently served at these functions, which were organized, sponsored, and paid for by Desert Aire. Hall had an entertainment budget designed specifically for entertaining prospective sales contacts and training sales agents. He confirmed that serving alcohol at these business events was common practice, "part of the culture of the business, in general." Hall testified: "The HVAC industry, the architectural products when you are getting the products specified has almost always used entertainment, dinners, and a lot of people drink alcohol socially and lightens up an [sic] you talk more freely."

In July of 2004 Hall flew to Little Rock, Arkansas, to meet with agents of Air Tech, Inc., one of the independent sales companies that sold Desert Aire products. The purpose of his trip was to work with the sales representatives, to visit with key engineers, and to plan a strategy for securing the Walmart account. From Arkansas, Hall intended to continue his business travel to Omaha, Nebraska and Des Moines, Iowa. He envisioned the excursion would last a little over a week. Hall averred every aspect of his journey was for Desert Aire sales-related business; no part of his trip was for a personal purpose.

In Arkansas, Hall worked closely with Charlie Brunner, a sales agent for Air Tech. On July 16, 2004, Hall and his business associates scheduled a dinner meeting at the Brunner home. In attendance, in addition to Hall and Brunner, were John Oliver, Air Tech owner, Charlotte Brunner, Air Tech sales associate, and. Edward Osterman, Desert Aire regional sales manager. Hall maintains the discussion throughout the evening focused on Desert Aire sales, including long-term plans and strategies for obtaining the Walmart account. Hall and Brunner both consumed alcohol before and during the dinner meeting.

Hall asserts the business discussion persisted after the meal ended. He and Brunner walked outside and around Brunner's yard, "still discussing things." Eventually, they decided to change venue and continue talking while riding around the block in Brunner's jeep. Brunner drove and Hall occupied the front passenger seat. Approximately 300 yards from Brunner's home, the jeep overturned and Hall sustained multiple injuries that required extended hospitalization

656 S.E.2d 757

and medical treatment. Brunner suffered fatal injuries.

Hall sought workers' compensation benefits and Desert Aire denied his claim, alleging Hall's injuries did not arise out of and in the course of his employment. The single commissioner found Hall's claim compensable, deciding Hall had not deviated from the course and scope of his employment at the time of his accident. The single commissioner added: "[e]ven if Hall's departure from the Brunner home on the evening of the accident were a deviation from his employment (which I find specifically was not the case) such a deviation was minimal and did not remove Hall from continuing to act within the course and scope of his employment at the time of the accident."

The Appellate Panel unanimously affirmed the single commissioner's findings of fact and conclusions of law, adopting the order in its entirety and incorporating it by reference. The circuit court affirmed the decision of the Appellate Panel, with one exception. The finding by the Appellate Panel that Hall suffered an injury to his neck and left leg as a result of the compensable accident was reversed.1

ISSUE

Does substantial evidence support the factual finding that Hall's injury arose out of and in the course of his employment, concomitantly satisfying the legal standard for compensability under section 42-1-160 of the South Carolina Code of Laws?

STANDARD OF REVIEW

The South Carolina Administrative Procedures Act (APA) establishes the standard for judicial review of decisions of the Workers' Compensation Commission. Lark v. Bi-Lo, Inc., 276 S.C. 130, 134, 276 S.E.2d 304, 306 (1981); Gray v. Club Group, Ltd., 339 S.C. 173, 182, 528 S.E.2d 435, 440 (Ct. App.2000) (cent denied); Hargrove v. Titan Textile Co., 360 S.C. 276, 288, 599 S.E.2d 604, 610 (Ct.App.2004); Gibson v. Spartanburg Sch. Dist. No. 3, 338 S.C. 510, 516, 526 S.E.2d 725, 728 (Ct.App.2000). As provided by the APA, a reviewing court

may not substitute its judgment for the judgment of the agency as to the weight of the evidence on questions of fact. The court may affirm the decision of the agency or remand the case for further proceedings. The court may reverse or modify the decision if substantial rights of the appellant have been prejudiced because the administrative findings, inferences, conclusions or decisions are affected by other error of law; [or] are clearly erroneous in view of the reliable, probative and substantial evidence on the whole record.

S.C. Code Ann. § 1-23-380(A)(5)(d)(e)(Supp.2006); see also Hall v. United Rentals, Inc., 371 S.C. 69, 77, 636 S.E.2d 876, 881 (Ct.App.2006); Bass v. Kenco Group, 366 S.C. 450, 456, 622 S.E.2d 577, 580 (Ct.App.2005); Liberty Mut. Ins. Co. v. S.C. Second Injury Fund, 363 S.C. 612, 619, 611 S.E.2d 297, 300 (Ct.App.2005) cert. denied, July 2007.

Pursuant to the APA, this court's review is limited to deciding whether the Appellate Panel's decision is unsupported by substantial evidence or is controlled by some error of law. Grant v. Grant Textiles, 372 S.C. 196, 200, 641 S.E.2d 869, 871 (2007); Gibson, 338 S.C. at 516, 526 S.E.2d at 728. "Any review of the Appellate Panel's factual findings is governed by the substantial evidence standard." Lockridge v. Santens of Am., Inc., 344 S.C. 511, 515, 544 S.E.2d 842, 844 (Ct.App.2001). The Appellate Panel's decision must be affirmed if supported by substantial evidence in the record. Shuler v. Gregory Elec., 366 S.C. 435, 440, 622 S.E.2d 569, 571 (Ct.App.2005) (citing Sharpe v. Case Produce, Inc., 336 S.C. 154, 160, 519 S.E.2d 102, 105 (1999)). It is not within the reviewing court's province to reverse findings of the Appellate Panel which are supported by substantial evidence. Frame v. Resort Servs., Inc., 357 S.C. 520, 528, 593 S.E.2d 491, 495 (Ct.App.2004); Broughton v. South of the Border, 336 S.C. 488, 496, 520 S.E.2d 634,

656 S.E.2d 758

637 (Ct.App.1999). The findings of an administrative agency are presumed correct and will be set aside only if unsupported by substantial evidence. Kenco Group, 366 S.C. at 458, 622 S.E.2d at 581; Frame, 357 S.C. at 528, 593 S.E.2d at 495; Broughton, 336 S.C. at 496, 520 S.E.2d at 637.

Substantial evidence is not a mere scintilla of evidence, nor the evidence viewed blindly from one side of the case, but is evidence which, considering the record as a whole, would allow reasonable minds to reach the conclusion the administrative agency reached in order to justify its action. Pratt v. Morris Roofing, Inc., 357 S.C. 619, 594 S.E.2d 272 (2004); Jones v. Georgia-Pacific Corp., 355 S.C. 413, 586 S.E.2d 111 (2003). Substantial evidence is something less than the weight of the evidence. Office of Regulatory Staff v. S.C. Pub. Serv. Comm'n, 374 S.C. 46, 647 S.E.2d 223 (2007). The possibility of drawing two inconsistent conclusions from the evidence does not prevent an administrative agency's findings from being supported by substantial evidence. Sharpe, 336 S.C. at 160, 519 S.E.2d at 105; Smith v. NCCI Inc., 369 S.C. 236, 247, 631 S.E.2d 268, 274 (Ct.App.2006); DuRant v. S.C. Dep't of Health & Envtl. Control, 361 S.C. 416, 420, 604 S.E.2d 704, 707 (Ct.App.2004).

The Appellate Panel is the ultimate fact finder in Workers' Compensation cases and is not bound by the single commissioner's findings of fact. Bass v. Isochem, 365 S.C. 454, 468, 617 S.E.2d 369, 376 (Ct. App.2005); Frame, 357 S.C. at 528, 593 S.E.2d at 495; Muir v. C.R. Bard, Inc., 336 S.C. 266, 281, 519 S.E.2d 583, 591 (Ct.App. 1999). The final determination of witness credibility and the weight assigned to the evidence is reserved to the Appellate Panel. Shealy v....

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38 practice notes
  • Houston v. Deloach & Deloach, No. 4408.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • 10 Junio 2008
    ...S.C.Code Ann. § 42-1-160 (Supp.2007); Grant v. Grant Textiles, 372 S.C. 196, 201, 641 S.E.2d 869, 871 (2007); Hall v. Desert Aire, Inc., 376 S.C. 338, 348, 656 S.E.2d 753, 758 (Ct.App.2007). "Although the requirements are somewhat overlapping, they are not synonymous and both must exist sim......
  • Watson v. Ford Motor Co., No. 26786.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of South Carolina
    • 13 Septiembre 2010
    ...expert testimony may be presented. See, e.g., State v. Pittman, 373 S.C. 527, 647 S.E.2d 144 (2007) (sanity); Hall v. Desert Aire, Inc., 376 S.C. 338, 656 S.E.2d 753 (Ct.App.2007) (intoxication); Small v. Pioneer Machinery, Inc., 329 S.C. 448, 494 S.E.2d 835 (Ct.App.1997) (cause of throttle......
  • Davaut v. Univ. of S.C., Appellate Case No. 2015–001218
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of South Carolina
    • 26 Octubre 2016
    ...618 (2010) (noting that "each case must be decided with reference to its own attendant circumstances" (quoting Hall v. Desert Aire, Inc. , 376 S.C. 338, 349, 656 S.E.2d 753, 759 (Ct. App. 2007) ) (internal quotation marks omitted)). Our workers' compensation commissioners regularly determin......
  • Davaut v. Univ. of S.C. & State Accident Fund, Appellate Case No. 2015-001218
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of South Carolina
    • 26 Octubre 2016
    ...618 (2010) (noting that "each case must be decided with reference to its own attendant circumstances" (quoting Hall v. Desert Aire, Inc., 376 S.C. 338, 349, 656 S.E.2d 753, 759 (Ct. App. 2007)) (internal quotation marks omitted)). Our workers' compensation commissioners regularly determine ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
38 cases
  • Houston v. Deloach & Deloach, No. 4408.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • 10 Junio 2008
    ...S.C.Code Ann. § 42-1-160 (Supp.2007); Grant v. Grant Textiles, 372 S.C. 196, 201, 641 S.E.2d 869, 871 (2007); Hall v. Desert Aire, Inc., 376 S.C. 338, 348, 656 S.E.2d 753, 758 (Ct.App.2007). "Although the requirements are somewhat overlapping, they are not synonymous and both must exist sim......
  • Watson v. Ford Motor Co., No. 26786.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of South Carolina
    • 13 Septiembre 2010
    ...expert testimony may be presented. See, e.g., State v. Pittman, 373 S.C. 527, 647 S.E.2d 144 (2007) (sanity); Hall v. Desert Aire, Inc., 376 S.C. 338, 656 S.E.2d 753 (Ct.App.2007) (intoxication); Small v. Pioneer Machinery, Inc., 329 S.C. 448, 494 S.E.2d 835 (Ct.App.1997) (cause of throttle......
  • Davaut v. Univ. of S.C., Appellate Case No. 2015–001218
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of South Carolina
    • 26 Octubre 2016
    ...618 (2010) (noting that "each case must be decided with reference to its own attendant circumstances" (quoting Hall v. Desert Aire, Inc. , 376 S.C. 338, 349, 656 S.E.2d 753, 759 (Ct. App. 2007) ) (internal quotation marks omitted)). Our workers' compensation commissioners regularly determin......
  • Davaut v. Univ. of S.C. & State Accident Fund, Appellate Case No. 2015-001218
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of South Carolina
    • 26 Octubre 2016
    ...618 (2010) (noting that "each case must be decided with reference to its own attendant circumstances" (quoting Hall v. Desert Aire, Inc., 376 S.C. 338, 349, 656 S.E.2d 753, 759 (Ct. App. 2007)) (internal quotation marks omitted)). Our workers' compensation commissioners regularly determine ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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